Labyrinth describes the maze of educational obstacles for children in Philadelphia’s
foster care system. Academic difficulties are multiplied exponentially when children live in
transition, such as foster homes, group homes or with an ever-changing cast of adults.
With support from a $100,000 Impact100 Philadelphia grant in 2016, CASA Philadelphia
has worked hard to develop tangible solutions to this growing educational problem. CASA
(Court Appointed Special Advocates) recognizes that students are entitled to have an informed
adult advocating on their behalf at school. Ideally, parents and families fulfill that role, but when
that is not possible, specially trained CASA volunteer Educational Decision Makers (EDMs) can
fill the gap. The breadth and depth of training required to serve is not a casual commitment.
Each CASA volunteer first receives 30 hours of general training in child welfare and relationship
building in person and through online programming. After successful completion of this two
week program, EDMs receive additional training to ensure all children receive a free appropriate
education, as guaranteed by federal law.
Impact100 Philadelphia member realized that she could leverage her
extensive experience as a special education teacher Amy Eisen, therapist, school psychologist and
administrator to make a huge difference for CASA. Educational Decision Makers confront a
wide variety of learning issues and living circumstances. Some students have behavioral health
needs, others have specific learning differences such as dyslexia or processing problems or do
not speak English well enough to succeed in a traditional classroom. All elements of the CASA
program require great flexibility: volunteers work with infants who can benefit from early
intervention and young adults on the verge of “aging out” of the child welfare system. Children
are not identical, so no two cases are the same. The common goals for all 300 students CASA
represents are the commitment to school stability and the best educational interest of each
child. Amy offered a series of workshops that detailed the content and processes of evaluation
and educational programming and continues to serve as a resource for CASA volunteers as
they they encounter new challenges and unanticipated obstacles.
Impact100 Philadelphia funding facilitated the development of a tool kit for these
dedicated volunteers. This is a model program that will be available to all CASA programs
across Pennsylvania who wish to train volunteers as Education Decision Makers. The
coordination required to work within the court system, Department of Human Services and
schools for the benefit of Philadelphia’s most vulnerable students is truly a delicate balance.
CASA recognizes it may take years to navigate that process, and the organization is committed
to each child’s long term needs. However, this commitment has a cost. Educational Decision
Makers will continue to receive ongoing support through workshops, conferences and extra in-service
Currently, CASA has trained 35 Educational Decision Makers and has provided
supplemental coaching to 70 volunteer advocates. This extensive process allows volunteers
from all types of professional, personal and educational backgrounds serve Philadelphia’s most
defenseless students. Interested in learning more about Amy’s experiences? Contact Amy
Eisen [email protected] To connect directly with CASA Philadelphia, CLICK HERE.